This commentary was contributed by Hollister School District trustee Rob Bernosky. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors.
One of the perks of being a school board member is access to Governor budget workshops, where one gets insight about the political winds of Sacramento, and how it impacts school funding, including for the Hollister School District. The most recent one discusses Governor Gavin Newsom with some contrast against the former Governor Jerry Brown.
As a fiscal conservative whose entire family is significantly involved in public education, and one who really wants public education to work, it is very painful to hear and write about.
The overall picture is that the economists are predicting a recession sometime in the not-too-distance future. The state has a rainy-day fund that could mitigate some of the downsides to funding education if the recession is not too bad. However, many school districts are in precarious situations that are exasperated by pension problems significantly impacting the ability to provide funds for teaching in the classroom.
On the one hand, California ranks 41 in the nation in per pupil funding; we do more with less. But on the other, Governor Newsom wants to expand our mission to have subsidized child care, state-run preschool, expand transitional kindergarten, 100 percent all-day kindergarten, and begin a tracking database that would record the academic development of students the moment they enter the state educational system (preschool) and until they exit (graduate college). All of this costs money, of course.
That overall picture also includes that school enrollment is declining statewide as the birthrate and immigration decreases, and many choose to home school and enroll in private schools. The good news is that California has a budget surplus today due to the recently enacted tax increases that have allowed the state to temporarily mitigate some of its financial issues, the high poverty rate, homeless problems, poor roads, and other issues notwithstanding.
The state’s overriding problem with schools is that unlike municipalities, if a school district becomes insolvent, the state takes over the liabilities. But, with total Democrat control of the legislature, the governorship, and all other statewide offices, the general thought is that there are solutions to the funding problem today and being able to do things like state-run preschool for all.
Because of Sacramento’s fear of having to take over school districts, especially because of pension liabilities, it is contributing some funds for pensions, which are sorely needed. But that is a drop in the bucket compared to the overall problem of funding day-to-day operations, especially when its wants things like universal preschool and to make sure teachers and other staff are adequately paid to attract top talent necessary to achieve academic success.
The presenters believe that the state will endeavor to get more funds for schools by a combination of getting rid Prop 13 on commercial properties followed by removing it on homes, lowering the vote required for bond measures and parcel taxes, and allowing school districts to levy their own sales and income taxes.
The Hollister School District is not exempt from the funding problems or the solutions. We are actually experiencing growth in enrollment and have some reserves, but we are at our bonding capacity for the foreseeable future for infrastructure. Any new schools or daycare or preschool facilities today would require us successfully petitioning the state for funds. If the prognosticators are correct about Prop 13 though, parcel taxes, bond measures, and new income and sales taxes levied by school districts, the voters would dictate what we do. You can guess how this fiscal conservative feels about higher taxes and fees and a growing mission. Regardless, we are all working to deliver the best education for all the students.